Some people say, “Oh, I love the first snowfall. It’s absolutely beautiful.” You will never hear me say those words. I’ve never been a winter person.
You don’t like snow, either.
Snow causes problems.
It changes plans.
When you got home from school Friday, you pointed at the big white snowflakes that fell from the sky. You screamed and fussed and jumped up and down and mumbled words under your breath.
You wanted the winter scene to disappear.
I told you I was sorry I couldn’t melt all the snow. I’m flattered you thought I could.
On our way to the recycling center – we HAD to take our recyclables in the midst of a winter storm because it was on the schedule – you fiddled with the van’s radio and temperature controls. Visibility had gotten worse and darkness had set in. I told you to STOP because you were distracting me. I needed to pay attention to the road and the snow and the fast drivers who were on their phones.
You screamed you wanted to go to your respite center Saturday. Your words were a command and a question.
Would you still be able to go if the snow continued to fall?
You wanted me to reassure you that nothing had changed.
You don’t like change.
I couldn’t tell you that your Saturday respite time – the one I signed up for a month ago – had already been cancelled due to the weather.
Believe me, I wanted you to keep your plans so the rest of our family could relax. We all need a break from you, Isaac, as much as we love you. Your autism exhausts us sometimes.
You’d probably say you need a break from us, too.
I couldn’t tell you the truth because I wanted to slowly prepare your rigid mind for the possibility of change.
But mostly, I couldn’t tell you the truth because I didn’t have a plan. And if anyone knows anything about autism, it’s that you need a plan, right?
Many questions about Saturday remained unanswered.
Would we really get 11 inches of snow, as the meteorologist had predicted? If we shoveled our driveway Saturday morning, what time would the city plow our street? What could we plan for the day?
I don’t know what other families do during snow days, but I picture them watching movies, reading books, playing board games, sledding, and being lazy.
That rarely happens at our house.
Occasionally you stand in front of the TV while Dad tries to watch football. You don’t want your brothers using a fork during meal times. You insist on eating the same thing for lunch. You try to stop Dad from putting cheese on his sandwich. You tell me to put away my computer even when it’s not being used. You want to go somewhere constantly.
Because I didn’t have a Plan B for Saturday, I had to give you hope. I said these words to soothe you:
I want you to go to respite Saturday.
You want to go Saturday.
The center might be closed.
If we get a lot of snow, the center will be closed.
Isaac, you need to start thinking about the possibility. It might be closed.
It might be open.
We’ll wait and see.
Tomorrow we’ll know for sure.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
My words seemed to calm your nerves. Even so, you asked about it approximately 15 times at home before you crawled into bed that night. If you had known about the change, you would have been upset and perhaps wouldn’t have slept much at all.
When we woke Saturday morning, you put on your new bright red winter coat. You didn’t take it off for hours. You packed a lunch. You made the sign for “let’s go.”
Dad opened the blinds and pointed to the winter wonderland outside. The meteorologist got it right this time. Almost 12 inches of snow fell in our yard.
Dad told you the center was closed.
When those bitter words hit your ears, you screamed and ran down the hallway and slammed doors and cried real tears. We said you could go to the grocery store at 3:00 after we moved the snow from our driveway.
Your meltdown didn’t stop.
When you finally calmed down enough to eat breakfast, you carried the iPad to the kitchen table and listened to your favorite country music station, K98.5 FM.
Later I quietly telephoned the bowling alley when you went downstairs. I asked if I could make a reservation for the afternoon. The lady on the phone said to come over. She said the place was empty. I asked if reservations were necessary because the worst thing in the world would be to arrive and discover no lanes were available. (Horrors! I don’t want to think about that scenario.)
“Would you like to go bowling after lunch?” I asked.
You stood in the kitchen and looked at me in disbelief. Your coat hood was pulled up around your blond hair.
“Yes,” you said immediately. You wiped away tears.
“We’ll go after lunch at 1:00 or 1:30.”
Just like that, the anxiety that had reared its ugly head went into hiding. You slowed from 100 mph to 5 mph in 2.3 seconds. You were visibly relieved to have a plan.
So was I.
So much of what you need are times and places and things to do so you can make more sense of your world. A schedule gives you a sense of control over your environment.
Your brothers and I left the house when the Iowa Hawkeyes began to struggle and Dad became anxious. When we arrived at the bowling alley, you got settled.
While your brothers tied their shoes, you found bowling balls for everyone.
You stood in lane five, turned around at me, and smiled. While we waited for the pins to be reset, you looked like you were going to throw the ball down the lane. I knew you weren’t, but you wanted me to say it, so I did.
“Wait, Isaac. Wait.”
You laughed at the game you played with me.
Noah was engrossed in the football game on TV. He could still watch the game while Dad enjoyed quiet time at home. That’s called a win-win. Noah updated us on the score and mentioned the player who ran for another touchdown.
Maybe that family was at the bowling alley for a specific reason, too?
You sat next to me and told me you loved me. You put your head on my shoulder when your brothers bowled.
I told you I loved you.
You said you were a sweet boy.
It’s something I’ve said to you since you were a baby, and now I love that as a teenager, you repeat it to me.
I felt like your words were an apology of sorts. I think you were trying to tell me you wished you wouldn’t be so strung out by the snow and the schedule changes, but you are. That likely won’t change.
I knew you appreciated going to the bowling alley. Your gratitude was easy to recognize in your smile and demeanor.
Is this what other families do?
Considering the circumstances, our bowling outing may have been better than the Saturday respite routine. It just didn’t last nearly as long.
As we left the bowling alley, Henry almost wiped out on the ice. I reminded everyone to be careful. Then I stood outside and admired the beauty of the fresh snowfall, staring in awe at the gorgeous white blanket that had draped itself across the landscape. (Just kidding. I would never do that. Neither would you.)
You said you want to go bowling on Thanksgiving, after our big lunch at Grandpa & Grandma’s house. We don’t have any evening plans besides gathering up our recyclables. We haven’t made Plan B.
The bowling alley might be open. It might be closed. We’ll see what happens.